Charlene Hurst, 360-605-5247
Public Affairs contact: Ben Anderson, 360-480-4465
OLYMPIA – After several years of test operations, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Kelly Susewind yesterday announced that the Department will begin the rulemaking process to designate the beach seine, purse seine, and pound net as an “emerging commercial fishery” on the lower Columbia River, opening these alternative gears for expanded study and use in the river.
The emerging commercial fishery designation would allow Columbia River commercial license holders to apply for a permit to use these gears. The designation is the first step in a process to better evaluate the commercial viability of these gear types and their role in helping meet conservation goals for certain salmon and steelhead runs under the Endangered Species Act.
“The emerging commercial fishery designation is significant, but it’s important to note that this is just the beginning of a much longer process toward potential wider adoption of these alternative gears,” Susewind said. “This designation does not restrict any existing commercial gears, nor does it mean these alternative gears will suddenly dominate the non-treaty commercial fishing landscape on the Columbia River.”
Without the emerging commercial fishery designation, these gears can only be used as scientific collection devices or in a test fishery, which limits managers’ ability to evaluate whether they are commercially viable. The new designation would allow authorized commercial operators to sell the fish they catch using these gear types, while still allowing fishery managers to carefully monitor catch and mortality rates on sensitive fish populations.
All three gear types are currently legal in Oregon, and the catch-and-release mortality rates for the gears have been approved by the U.S v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, which consists of state, tribal, and federal staff and evaluates salmon and steelhead runs and forecasts in the Columbia River.
Currently, only gill nets and tangle nets are authorized by Washington statute for commercial use in the Columbia River mainstem. Development of alternative gear and corresponding efforts to optimize economic benefits while supporting conservation objectives for threatened or endangered fish populations are key components of the latest version of the Columbia River Salmon Fishery Management Policy, which was adopted by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in September 2020.
WDFW will continue to work closely with the commercial industry and other interested stakeholders during the continued development, implementation, and study of these alternative gears.
After collecting additional data, fishery managers will prepare a report to the Washington Legislature and, if warranted, request changes to existing statutes that prohibit the use of these gear types in the river.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish, wildlife, and recreational and commercial opportunities.